Relentless McCarthy inspires Ballymun to glory
BALLYMUN KICHAMS 0-11
The handle of the cup came away in the hands of captain Davy Byrne after he had accepted it, but that was about the only thing to go wrong for Ballymun Kickhams as they landed their first provincial title in Cusack Park, Mullingar.
Once again their victory was predicated on resolute defence and the sheer force of their athleticism that a more experienced Portlaoise side had trouble dealing with.
No wonder James McCarthy, their perpetual motion man at midfield, admitted to being "knackered" afterwards, while Byrne also referenced the fatigue that infiltrated their team down the home stretch.
In the nine games that have taken them to the penultimate stages of the club championship (six in Dublin and three in Leinster) they have only conceded two goals.
And they never looked like conceding one here.
Their statistics are even better when their three provincial games are taken in isolation. Their average concession is just seven points per game, a rate that has the feel of Donegal 2011 about it.
The conviction they showed in defence was a source of frustration throughout for Portlaoise.
Alan Hubbard was outstanding, but the supplementary efforts of Philly McMahon, Karl Connolly and James Burke, allied to the support of a variety of players who dropped back to ensure that they always had one and sometimes two sweepers to assist them, ensured that there were no chinks in the armoury.
It left Portlaoise with a dilemma as to how to try and break down their defence.
Their policy of running at Ballymun and carrying the ball into tackle didn't sustain them in the second half and while they got shots away, they were almost always hurried and under pressure – they hit nine wides in total.
It was only when Cahir Healy shifted out to centre-back and really carried the game to the Dublin champions that Portlaoise looked threatening.
At no stage was Ballymun manager Paul Curran discommoded by what he saw. He knew the defensive foundations were solid.
"I never felt we'd lose it, I have to say. Because I know the quality that we have. We just needed to get on the ball and we got on enough ball in the end to close it out. The defence has been outstanding," he said.
Portlaoise got the perfect start with Brian McCormack's point after two minutes but they didn't register their next score until the 30th minute, when Healy punched over to close the deficit to 0-6 to 0-2.
In between Ballymun took control, and while their forwards never really cut loose, they were busy enough to win frees that Dean Rock, peripheral otherwise, was happy to keep kicking over.
Ted Furman tested Tommy Fitzgerald repeatedly, while Jason Whelan grew into the game as it progressed and became a really strong influence.
McCarthy and Byrne are quite possibly the smallest, in both height and weight, midfield partnership at this level, but the way the team plays it doesn't hinder them, and they got the upper hand for much of the first half in that crucial middle sector.
So much came off McCarthy's searing runs and it was only when he sustained an injury in the second half that he was curtailed a little.
What goal chances were created were on the Ballymun side.
After only eight minutes Portlaoise goalkeeper Michael Nolan had to save smartly from Rock, and he had to be alert again to thwart the rampaging McCarthy just after the restart with another block, though Connolly followed up on that occasion with a fly-kicked point.
Portlaoise kicked bad wides in that opening half and their handling and retention of possession were often poor.
Kevin Leahy got Ballymun's only first-half point from play in the 29th minute and their 0-6 to 0-2 lead was justified.
They stretched that lead further to 0-9 to 0-3 in the second half after Byrne and Furman teed up Whelan, but Portlaoise finished strongly, with Healy and substitute Kevin Fitzpatrick leading the charge.
More often than not, however, there was a Ballymun hand or body in to make the vital intercept or tackle.
Portlaoise joint-manager Mark Kavanagh was left to rue missed chances that allowed Ballymun to hit them on the break.
"It was tough to break them down but we still had the chances. If you look at the first 15 minutes of the first half, we had the chances but just didn't take them," he lamented.
"Having said that, they came back up the field and got five points from frees and one point from play. That would suggest to me that we had chances and we didn't take them. They took them and that's the nature of the game."
Ballymun are the third different Dublin club in six years to win the Leinster title, following on from St Vincent's in 2007 and Kilmacud Crokes in 2008 and 2010.
"It's a difficult thing to do, first time, especially this competition – there's a lot of great teams out there," said Curran.
"But we took it game by game this year. To win Dublin is a serious ask.
"Once we won that and got back on the road and got back around three days later we trained hard and forgot about the Dublin win. This was the goal and thankfully it came to pass."
Scorers – Ballymun Kickhams: D Rock 0-6 (all frees), J Whelan 0-2 (1f), T Furman, K Leahy, K Connolly 0-1 each. Portlaoise: B Fitzgerald (2fs), B McCormack, C Healy 0-2 each, B Glynn, P Cahillane (f) 0-1 each.
Ballymun Kickhams – S Currie; Enda Dolan, P McMahon, Eoin Dolan; A Hubbard, K Connolly, J Burke; Davy Byrne, J McCarthy; E Reilly, K Leahy, J Whelan; T Furman, D Rock, S Forde. Subs: Derek Byrne for Forde (38), S George for Reilly (43), A O'Brien for Furman (59), J Small for Leahy (63).
Portlaoise – M Nolan; B Mulligan, C Healy, T Fitzgerald; P Cotter, K Lillis, C Rogers; A Kelly, C Boyle; H Coughlan, B Fitzgerald, B Glynn; B McCormack, P Cahillane, B Smith. Subs: K Fitzpatrick for Kelly (ht), B Gaynor for Mulligan (41), E Whelan for Smith (45), R Maher for Cahillane (60).
Ref – David Gough (Meath).